For National Disability Employment Awareness Month, #NDEAM, let’s recognize that people with disabilities are all around us, doing the work of our organizations and companies (here are some statistics about disability employment from the Office of Disability Employment Policy, ODEP). Held annually, NDEAM is led by the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy, but its true spirit lies in the many observances held at the grassroots level across the nation every year. In thinking about disability at work, often we focus on the costs and barriers instead of the unique and valuable benefits brought to our organizations by people with disabilities. With regard to invisible disabilities, I always ask my clients to look around the table and realize that statistically, there are people right there next to them who may have disabilities that are not disclosed. Maybe one of those people is me!
Do you recognize any of these employees in your organization?
Every other month, Jeff takes a week off work. Other employees give him a hard time because this is more time than other team members are typically allowed to take. When he takes extra vacation, they forget about his contributions and complain that he is lazy or asks for special treatment. His bipolar disorder is well-managed by medication, rest and regular breaks from work.
Jeff is his team’s highest performing sales leader. He was responsible for bringing in 30% of the annual revenue for his employer last year.
Anna uses a wheelchair for mobility. As a managing engineer, she needs to visit power plants to oversee and inspect large turbines for correct installation. Because the buildings are not accessible, modifications will be needed so she can navigate the building. Grumbling from departments whose budgets are impacted are whispered among leadership.
Anna’s expertise in design and installation of these turbines allows them to be safely and effectively installed, allowing the plant to continue to operate, preserving the jobs of everyone located there and increasing efficiency of power generation by 20%.
Andre has applied for a job as a retail sales representative. He has two years of experience in retail sales for a car stereo company. Due to a visual impairment, he needs a screen reader on the check-out computer terminals at the store where he will be assigned. The screen reader doesn’t cost a lot of money, but the others interviewing for the job don’t require any accommodation and are equally qualified. Andre displays his excellent communications skills in the interview, and is recommended for reliability and commitment to customer service by his references.
Andre has the potential to be a great hire for this retail store, and could become one of their best employees.
Jesse needs to be off work for the next three months for complex cancer treatment. He is a supervisor at a call center for his company, and is a critical leader at his job site. Some at the company are urging that he be replaced, because it will require a lot of extra work to cover for him, and some are assuming he won’t be able to return to work because they’ve seen him using a cane after surgery. When his employees heard he needed to be away for medical treatment, they all offered to step up to help during his absence so he could come back to lead them when he recovers.
Jesse is an inspirational leader in his business unit. He has a passion for people, and customer service. His teams routinely out-perform others at the company.
Bonita has a special chair that she must have in the room when she is assisting in surgeries as an OR nurse. This chair must be treated to sterilize it, requiring extra time and work for the OR techs before each procedure. They complain that no one else needs a chair, and it causes them extra work.
Bonita is the go-to OR nurse and is requested by cardio-thoracic surgeons at her hospital when they have extremely complex or risky procedures on their schedule.
Now, go back and re-read this section, but only focus on the information in BOLD. There are people with disabilities who are in every category of performance. But sometimes those who are your highest potential employees are overlooked because employers get hung up on costs or logistics-and they fail to see that these are high-performing, stellar employees with a great future who are committed to their organization.
So, for #NDEAM, and all year long, let’s challenge organizations to shift their cultures toward inclusion for people with disabilities, and valuing the contributions of all employees. It’s the right choice for business, for employees and for continued success of every organization!
Photo credit: Foter.com